Wellness Wednesday: Are you at risk for stroke? How you can reduce your risk of a brain attack

SALT LAKE CITY - Each year approximately 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke. About 600,000 of these are first attacks and 195,000 are recurrent attacks.

Although nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over age 65, strokes can and do occur at any age. While your chance of stroke doubles every 10 years after age 55, one in seven strokes occur in adolescents and adults age 15 to 49. Strokes are also  more common in women than men, and women of all ages are more likely to die from stroke than men.

What is a Stroke? 

A stroke is a “brain attack.” It can happen to anyone at any time, according to Intermountain Healthcare neurologist, Kevin Call, MD.  A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain suddenly stops. It can happen because of a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel (ischemic stroke) or because a blood vessel in your brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke).

When a stroke happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. "It’s estimated that in the first minute following a stroke, the brain loses an estimated 1.9 million cells," said Dr. Call.

How a person is affected by their stroke depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged. For example, someone who had a small stroke may only have minor problems such as temporary weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes may be permanently paralyzed on one side of their body or lose their ability to speak.

“The most important thing to know is that ‘time is brain,’” said Dr. Call. “The more rapidly we’re able to recognize a stroke and provide interventions to restore blood flow, the more likely the patient is to have a positive outcome.”

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke? 

If you have a stroke you may experience sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on just one side of the body. You may get confused and have trouble speaking and understanding others when they are speaking. Trouble seeing in one or both eyes is common, as well as trouble walking or maintaining balance. The most common symptom is a painful headache that sets in quickly.

You can use the acronym BE FAST to remember the signs of a stroke, and also to remind yourself that if you have these symptoms you’d better BE FAST and call 911. The letters stand for:

B: Balance - sudden dizziness or loss of balance or coordination

E: Eyes - sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

F: Face - sudden weakness of the face (Does one side of your face droop?)

A: Arm - weakness of an arm or leg

S: Speech - sudden difficulty speaking

T: Time - time the symptoms started

If you or a loved one is showing signs of a stroke, it is crucial to call 911 and get medical attention immediately.

Know the warning signs and symptoms. If you have warning signs of a stroke call 911 and get to the hospital right away.

Don’t delay treatment. Call 911. Get medical care immediately, even if the symptoms seem to fluctuate or disappear.

Take symptoms seriously. A stroke is a medical emergency. Early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications.

Ways to Lower Your Stroke Risk 

Many risk factors in the chart above can be controlled or even eliminated. To help prevent a stroke and improve your overall health you can:

Stop smoking. Quitting now will dramatically improve your health both now and in the future. It will lower your risk of having a stroke, as well as lower your risk of many other serious medical conditions.

Maintain a healthy weight. This will help you control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes — and lower your chance of heart disease and stroke. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how to lose weight safely, slowly, and permanently.

Exercise. Physical activity protects your heart, brain, and bones. Exercising makes you stronger, gives you more energy, and helps you cope with daily stress. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. The 30 minutes can be broken up throughout your day. Some simple ways to get some exercising in: take the stairs instead of an elevator, park at the end of parking lots, walk the dog, etc.

Visit your doctor regularly. Your doctor can check for "silent" risk factors like high blood pressure and help you properly manage any chronic illness such as diabetes.

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